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Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Introduction

Human Rights Watch is a powerful NGO, with a massive budget, close links to Western governments, and significant influence in international institutions. Its publications reflect the absence of professional standards, research methodologies, and military and legal expertise, as well as a deep-seated ideological bias against Israel.

Profile

Country/TerritoryUnited States
Websitewww.hrw.org
Founded1978 as Helsinki Watch
RegistrationBased in New York, headed by Kenneth Roth (Executive Director since 1993)

Funding

Activities

  • Systematic NGO Monitor analyses demonstrate that HRW disproportionately focuses on condemnations of Israel and that publications related to Israel often lack credibility. HRW also promotes an agenda based solely on the Palestinian narrative of victimization and Israeli aggression.
  • Uses distorted legal rhetoric to repeatedly accuses Israel of “war crimes,” “[s]erious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” “collective punishment,” and fostering a “culture of impunity.” Applies unique standards to Israel as part of its broader delegitimization campaign.
  • Promotes a Palestinian “right of return,” which, if implemented, would effectually mean the elimination of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
  • Lobbies the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and other international frameworks, promoting false, distorted, and unverifiable allegations against Israel. Played a major role in the creation of the eventually discredited Goldstone report, submitting numerous statements to the commission equating Israel to Hamas and falsely accusing Israel of “willfully” killing civilians.
  • On June 30, 2017, Omar Shakir, HRW’s Israel and Palestine Director, spoke at the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) “Forum to Mark Fifty Years of Occupation,” stating that Israel “has effectively turned Gaza into an open air prison.”
  • Shakir spoke at a hearing in Congress on June 8, 2017 on “how persistent human rights violations, systematic impunity, discrimination and a hyper-militarized environment affect the lives of the Palestinian children growing up under a military occupation with no end in sight.” The event was sponsored by Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P) and American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) as part of their “No Way to Treat a Child” campaign; both DCI-P and AFSC promote BDS campaigns against Israel.
  • On June 4, 2017, HRW released a statement on “50 Years of Occupation Abuses” accusing Israel of “major violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law” and “war crimes.” The statement further calls upon the International Criminal Court to “open a formal investigation into serious crimes committed in Israel and Palestine.” (Omar Shakir also posted the report in video form on Twitter.)
  • In March 2017, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director Jo Becker was the featured speaker at a press conference to launch a Policy Note by Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict. Watchlist urged the UN Secretary General to add the “Israel Defense Forces” to the list of “parties known to commit grave violations against children.”
    • In 2015, there was a concerted but failed NGO campaign, led by HRW, to include the Israeli army on the list.
  • In December 2010, HRW published a report, “Separate and Unequal,” accusing Israel of discriminating against Palestinians in the West Bank on the “basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin” and advancing a BDS agenda.
  • HRW was an active participant in the 2001 Durban conference, which crystallized the strategy of delegitimizing Israel as “an apartheid regime” through international isolation based on the South African model.

BDS Activities

  • HRW initiated a failed public campaign with alongside Palestinian efforts, calling on FIFA to take punitive measures against Israel and “require the IFA to stop holding games inside the settlements and to stop allowing fields and halls in the settlements to be used for official competitions.” The campaign included multiple articles, extensive social media posts, and lobbying of the UN.
  • On September 12, 2017, HRW published a report on “Israeli Law and Banking in West Bank Settlements” calling for banks “to comply with their own human rights responsibilities by ceasing settlement-related activities,” as by “providing services to and in settlements, which are illegal under international humanitarian law (IHL), and partnering with developers in new construction projects, Israeli banks are making existing settlements more sustainable, enabling the expansion of their built-up area and the take-over of Palestinian land, and furthering the de facto annexation of the territory.”
    • According to Sari Bashi, HRW Israel/Palestine Advocacy Director, “There are many, many steps banks can and should take to at the very least reduce their involvement in settlements, if not stop it entirely…If they choose not to take steps, institutional investors who care about their own human rights activity should take action.”
  • On November 21, 2016, Bashi sent a letter to the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, praising the latest efforts to establish a UN boycott of Israel, and offering three specific companies to be included on a nascent UN blacklist.
    • In November 2017, HRW issued a press release applauding the database for “build[ing] pressure on businesses.”
  • On January 19, 2016, published “Occupation Inc.” a 162-page report calling for businesses to cease operations in Israeli West Bank settlements, constituting a de-facto call for a boycott of Israel. Coinciding with HRW’s publication, Kathleen Peratis, co-chair of HRW’s Middle East North Africa Advisory Committee and emerita Board of Trustees member, penned a pro-BDS article in Ha’aretz.

Criticism from Founder

  • Due to the organization’s failures, founder Robert Bernstein published an article in the New York Times (“Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast,” October 19, 2009) strongly criticizing the organization for ignoring severe human rights violations in closed societies, for its anti-Israel bias, and for “issuing reports…that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”
  • Bernstein expanded on these ideas in a lecture at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (November 2010), noting, “Human Rights Watch’s attacks on almost every issue [have] become more and more hostile [toward Israel].”

Key Staff

  • Many HRW officials, including those working on Israel, have a history of ideological bias:
  • During the 2014 Gaza War, director Ken Roth obsessively tweeted about the conflict. Roth’s tweets were characterized by significant levels of sarcasm, vitriol, and deep-seated hostility toward Israel.
    • In July 2006, in responding to a critique of HRW’s reporting of the Lebanon War, Roth stated: “An eye for an eye – or, more accurately in this case, twenty eyes for an eye – may have been the morality of some more primitive moment. But it is not the morality of international humanitarian law…”  The New York Sun decried this statement as a “slur on the Jewish religion itself that is breathtaking in its ignorance… To suggest that Judaism is a ‘primitive’ religion incompatible with contemporary morality is to engage in supersessionism, the de-legitimization of Judaism, the basis of much antisemitism.”
  • In October 2016, HRW hired Omar Shakir to serve as its “Israel and Palestine Country Director.” Shakir is a consistent supporter of a one-state framework and advocate for BDS campaigns against Israel. In February 2017, Shakir was denied a work visa by the Israeli government, but was ultimately allowed into Israel in April 2017.
  • In 2009, Sarah Leah Whitson, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division, visited Libya, claiming to have discovered a “Tripoli spring.” She praised Muammar Qaddafi’s son Seif Islam as a leading reformer and for creating an “expanded space for discussion and debate.”
    • Whitson published a 2011 op-ed on The Huffington Post, “A Matter of Civil Rights,” abusing the legacy of the US Civil Rights Movement to single-out and advance hatred towards Israel. In the op-ed, Whitson maintained: “We do no honor to [Dr. Martin Luther] King’s legacy by supporting policies that promote racial discrimination and segregation.” Whitson also employed racial stereotyping in race-baiting American Jews, stating: “And why should American Jews, who have a history of deep engagement with the U.S. civil rights movement, support settlements built on these kinds of laws and policies in Israel?”
  • In 2011, Kathleen Peratis, co-chair of the Advisory Committee of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, visited Gaza and met with several Hamas officials. Hamas is a designated terror organization by Israel, the U.S.EU, and Canada. In her article about the visit, Peratis describes her experience exploring smuggling tunnels from Gaza into Egypt with members of Hamas.
  • In September 2009, “senior military analyst” Marc Garlasco was revealed to be an obsessive collector of Nazi memorabilia. He was suspended and then dismissed, but his reports were not withdrawn. As shown in a Sunday Times (UK) article, “Nazi scandal engulfs Human Rights Watch” (March 28, 2010), the Garlasco issue was indicative of far deeper problems at HRW.

HRW Total Expenses 2005-2016

All information based on 990 Forms submitted to the IRS unless otherwise noted. Financial year spans from July 1st-June 30th.

All Articles about Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Further Reading